Anthropologists have a long, if uneven, history of engagement with studies of energy and economy – from the use of wind in ancient exchange and the effects of domestication on production, to the contemporary dependence on the consumption of fossil fuels. While Leslie White most explicitly incorporated energy in his mid-century macroevolutionary model, the discipline’s engagements with energy and economy include a wide variety of approaches ranging from cultural ecology and systems-based approaches to political ecology and ecofeminism.

Despite these diverse engagements, economistic understandings of the relationship between energy and economy continue to dominate the intellectual and policy landscape. Anthropological insights, however, make it clear that actual human engagements with energy almost never follow a simple logic of economic efficiency. What can the historical, material and ethnographic records tell us about the empirical relationships between the environment, economy, culture, and energy use? Better analysis of these mutually influencing relationships enriches scholarship and has critical policy relevance – particularly given the urgent need for a transition to less carbon-intensive energy sources.

Human societies have always relied on continued resource inputs, yet explicit consideration of energy is often neglected in social scientific work. Perhaps this is due to energy’s invisibility – its doxic, taken-for-granted flow as mysterious to most people as its effects are profound and ubiquitous. Uneven social, political economic, and environmental impacts simultaneously accompany these flows in a global circuitry of energy and trade that is as cultural as it is physical, bringing different, intersecting forms of power into perspective.

Energy flows, then, are at the very foundations of economic provision and therefore provide a compelling lens through which to examine the economic affairs of any society.

We are especially keen on stimulating interdisciplinary engagement with the meeting theme. The Society for Economic Anthropology’s 2014 meeting is thus planned in conjunction with the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) meetings in Austin, Texas and we strongly encourage submissions from archaeologists, and other anthropologists, as well as economists, historians and other scholars of the human condition. Texas will provide a particularly relevant backdrop for SEA 2014 given the state’s notable energy resources and significant influence on US and global energy policy. Austin is an especially pleasant setting, with delightful spring weather and a vibrant music scene.

We welcome anthropologically informed and theoretically relevant papers and posters that address (but are certainly not limited to) the following questions:

  • Economic Theory: concepts, method, professional practice, interdisciplinary
  • What fundamental reorientations of theory and method are needed to widen appreciation of humanity’s past, present and future dependence on energy flows? What theories and methodologies are most useful for understanding shifts between energy regimes? What are the most promising ethnographic frontiers for understanding the transition away from the fossil fuel era? How can a long-term perspective incorporating non-industrial societies bolster how we envision energy flows and human-environmental relations? How might we best think about vulnerability, sustainability and resilience? Should economic anthropologists resume measuring food, fuel and labor in terms related to advances in environmental economics or human ecology? How might renewed attention to energy reunite or reconfigure four-field anthropology?
  • Production: environmental interfaces, labor, work, social structuring
  • How can we best categorize diversity in the cultural and material production of energy – from energy used to fuel human labor and the fire used to smelt iron, to the biological, nuclear and solar technologies now being explored? How have prehistoric and more contemporary social groups resisted particular energy regimes even when technological or labor capacities may have allowed them? What role has energy played in the development and reorganization of societies? How have historical and contemporary energy regimes shaped and been shaped by social and political relations? What are the physical, social, cultural, political and economic ramifications of extracting, processing and using carbon-intensive fuels and growing renewable electricity?
  • Exchange: energy, social circuitry, markets, commodification
  • How has energy affected the ways market and non-market exchange shapes social connection and dislocation? How do we best account for the energy embodied in goods and services exchanged? How are gender, age, kinship, class and other dimensions of social organization related to energy? What are the possibilities for incorporating externalities in market-based efforts to speed energy transitions? What are the impacts when we commodify resources necessary for life? How is money related to energy flow?
  • Consumption: style, status, decision making
  • How are habitus, consumption styles, status desires, and imaginaries related to the flow of energy involved in people’s ongoing construction of meaning and identity? How can energy and other resource demand from a growing middle class in BRIC and other countries be understood and accommodated? How might we interpret flat to declining energy use in the OECD/developed countries? What can economic anthropologists contribute to understanding peoples’ use of renewable energy technologies, distributed energy, smart grids, private electricity generation, etc.?
  • Economic & Energy Transitions: governance, finance, movements and the future
  • What precedents in the archaeological and historical record could help us understand the economic and social implications of slow vs. sudden shocks in energy supply? What is the minimum net energy surplus needed for societal functioning, and how useful is net energy analysis in our fields? What roles do debt and finance, including bubbles, play in the creation and reproduction of existing and potential energy regimes? How are modes of political and economic governance related to control over past, present and future energies? What is expertise, and how do experts affect the forecasting of possible energy futures? How are war and militaries part of past and future energy transitions? How have/can social movements shape(d) energy cultures?

Preliminary Program

Available in early 2014

Paper and Poster Submission Guidelines

Abstracts of proposed papers and posters should be no more than 500 words, and should be submitted here, after completing the conference pre-registration here (available soon). Abstracts are due no later than December 15, 2013.

Poster Presentations

The SEA “happy hour” poster session is an inclusive and well-attended event at each annual conference. Papers not accepted for oral presentation are automatically eligible for inclusion in the poster session. Scholars whose work may not fit the central theme of the meeting are encouraged to submit a poster. The SEA always welcomes posters on any topic in economic anthropology.

Meeting Format

The SEA meetings provide a rare opportunity for a focused and coherent program of presentation, with time for critical discussion in a convivial intellectual setting. Papers are selected for a program that allows 15-20 minutes for presentation and 15-20 minutes for discussion in plenary sessions over two days. Papers and posters from the SEA annual will be considered for publication in a special issue of the society’s journal: Economic Anthropology. Submitting a paper for the plenary sessions represents a commitment that you wish to be considered for inclusion in the journal. We encourage archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, economists, and other scholars concerned with the meeting theme to submit abstracts.

SEA 2014 Conference Registration, Fees

Not yet available: Before submitting your abstract go to the SEA section page on the AAA website and pre-register for the conference. Registration is $100 for members, $125 for nonmembers and $70 for students. Please note that refunds can be issued up to one month in advance of the meetings in the case that your abstract is not accepted.

Venue and Regional Attractions

Texas is an especially relevant venue for an energy-themed conference as it continues to play a major role in US energy provisioning and policy. Austin provides a particularly pleasant setting within Texas due to its delightful spring weather, proximity to the University of Texas, and a vibrant music scene.

The 2014 meetings will be held at the Hilton Garden Inn Austin, 500 N Interstate 35, Austin, Texas, 78701. This location is a short two blocks from the Convention Center and the concurrent annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. The hotel is also within walking distance of many area attractions, music venues and restaurants. For additional information about tourist attractions, entertainment and dining in Austin, please visit:


SEA has reserved a block of rooms at the Hilton Garden Inn at a discount rate. Rooms are $189/night for single or double occupancy. Other lodging accommodations are available, but most are more expensive or are not centrally located. are less well located and mostly more expensive.


There are several options for transfers to and from Austin’s Bergstrom Airport, including rental cars, a SuperShuttle, city buses and of course taxis. The least expensive option from the airport is by city bus. The city of Austin’s Capital Metro provides the “100 Airport Flyer”, an express bus from the airport to downtown. The bus picks up on the lower level of the airport near baggage claim. Tickets are purchased on the bus, and airport staff should be available to direct you. There is a stop at 4th and Trinity and again 6th and Trinity that service the Hilton Garden Inn. One way tickets are $1 one-way from the airport to any of these stops, and 24-hour passes are $2.Visit for more information, or call 512/474-1200.

Program Chairs

Thomas Love
Dept of Sociology/Anthropology
Linfield College
McMinnville, Oregon 97128
fax: 503/883-2635

Cindy Isenhour
Department of Anthropology
University of Maine
Orono, ME 04469

Susan Falls is the contributing editor for the SUNTA column in Anthropology News.

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